Sunday, December 11, 2005

ACLU: Protesters Placed in Terror Files

ACLU: Protesters Placed in Terror Files
By Anslee Willett
The Gazette, Colorado Springs

Friday 09 December 2005

The names and license plate numbers of about 30 people who protested three years ago in Colorado Springs were put into FBI domestic-terrorism files, the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Colorado said Thursday.

The Denver-based ACLU obtained federal documents on a 2002 Colorado Springs protest and a 2003 anti-war rally under the Freedom of Information Act.

ACLU legal director Mark Silverstein said the documents show the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force wastes resources generating files on "nonviolent protest."

"These documents confirm that the names and license plate numbers of several dozen peaceful protesters who committed no crime are now in a JTTF file marked 'counterterrorism,'" he said.

"This kind of surveillance of First Amendment activities has serious consequences. Law-abiding Americans may be reluctant to speak out when doing so means that their names will wind up in an FBI file."

FBI Special Agent Monique Kelso, the spokeswoman for the agency in Colorado, disputed the claim the task force wastes resources gathering information on protesters.

"We do not open cases or monitor cases just based purely on protests," she said Thursday. "It's our job to protect American civil rights. We don't surveil cases just to do that. We have credible information."

The documents cover the June 2002 protest of the North American Wholesale Lumber Association convention at The Broadmoor hotel and an anti-war protest at Palmer Park in February 2003, the ACLU said.

The FBI files contain the names and license-plate numbers of 31 people at the 2002 protest, Silverstein said.

Activists accused the lumber association, a trade organization of about 650 forest products and building-material wholesalers, of destroying endangered forests and needlessly logging on public land.

A few of the activists were arrested after sneaking onto The Broadmoor's roof to un- furl a 45-foot banner.

The FBI documents indicated agents planned surveillance in Denver where protesters gathered to carpool to Colorado Springs for the 2003 anti-war protest at Palmer Park, the ACLU said. FBI agents also collected information on three Web sites that listed details of the planned protest, the ACLU said.

The file was classified as domestic terrorism and acts of terrorism, Silverstein said.

"The FBI is unjustifiably treating nonviolent public protest as though it were domestic terrorism," Silverstein said. "The FBI's misplaced priorities threaten to deter legitimate criticism of government policy while wasting taxpayer resources that should be directed to investigating real terrorists."

The 2003 rally was part of an International Day of Peace to oppose possible US military action against Iraq. Protesters gathered at Palmer Park and outside Peterson Air Force Base.

Nearly three dozen protesters at both locations were arrested for failing to disperse.

About 30 protesters at the park obstructed traffic and blocked Academy Boulevard, which was shut down for about an hour. Some sat down in the northbound lanes and wrote messages in chalk on the street. Others stood in front of cars in the southbound lanes.

Dozens of police officers used tear gas and pepper spray to disperse the crowd.

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